An ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure that uses sound waves to create images on a computer screen. A pregnancy ultrasound is performed to check your baby’s growth and development and scan for abnormalities. Ultrasounds are a standard part of prenatal care, and most women will have at least two ultrasounds during their pregnancy.
However, other contributing factors may result in the need for additional scans or tests. Read on to learn more about the types of ultrasounds that exist and when or why you may need them.
What is a Pregnancy Ultrasound?
Many parents look forward to their ultrasound appointments because it makes the pregnancy feel real! Ultrasounds are the first time parents get to see their baby, and with modern technology, there are now 3-D and 4-D ultrasounds that can provide even more detailed images. It is recommended that ultrasounds are always performed by a licensed medical professional.
Ultrasounds can be performed at various stages of pregnancy depending on contributing risk factors such as your age, history of miscarriages, family history, and genetic tests you may wish to have performed. Your healthcare provider will decide at what stages and how many ultrasounds you need based on how your pregnancy is progressing.
When Should You Get Your First Ultrasound
Call your doctor as soon as you’ve discovered you’re pregnant to set up your initial appointment. Some doctors will perform the first ultrasound early on in your first trimester, around week seven or eight, while others may simply want you to come in for a urinalysis and confirm the pregnancy first instead.
If your doctor performs an early ultrasound, it is often a transvaginal ultrasound and is done by placing an imaging wand or transducer into the mother’s vagina. During this scan, it is possible to see your baby’s heartbeat. However, you may not be able to hear it yet.
This first ultrasound will also help your healthcare provider determine if you are having multiples, predict your baby’s due date, and check for an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is what happens when the fertilized egg attaches outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tubes, and can be a dangerous or even life-threatening condition for the mother.
Some doctors may not feel that an ultrasound is needed as early as seven or eight weeks and may wait until weeks ten to fourteen to perform the first one. But, often, by week ten, you will hear your baby’s heartbeat for the first time!
How to Prepare for an Ultrasound
One of the most important directions to follow is to arrive at your ultrasound appointment with a full bladder. Empty your bladder an hour or two before your ultrasound scan, and then drink 8 to 32 ounces of water or juice in the hour leading up to the appointment. Your healthcare provider can also offer specific instructions on what, when, and how much to drink.
A full bladder makes it easier for the technician to view your uterus, and see your baby’s development.
Some sonographers recommend drinking sugary drinks like juice beforehand, since it will make your baby more active. There are no rules about eating, and you can eat as you usually would; there is no fasting involved with this procedure.
It is also a good idea to wear a comfortable, two-piece outfit to provide easy access to your stomach if you will be having a transabdominal ultrasound. This way, you will not have to get completely undressed.
What to Expect at an Ultrasound Appointment
If this is your first pregnancy, you are likely wondering what an ultrasound will feel like and why it is necessary.
Ultrasounds are painless procedures, although having a full bladder can feel slightly uncomfortable. It is also possible to feel slight pressure with a transvaginal ultrasound.
Early ultrasounds are performed to determine a variety of things about your baby and your pregnancy. For example, an ultrasound performed in early pregnancy can provide a more accurate due date than the one estimated from the date of your last menstrual period. This is done by measuring your baby’s crown-rump length. A first-trimester ultrasound will also determine the number of babies present in the womb, and detect the fetal heartbeat.
It is also vital for pregnant women to have an early ultrasound to rule out an ectopic pregnancy, which can be a life-threatening condition if not treated in time.
Sonographers usually print off a few ultrasound images from your appointment. These ultrasound pictures are wonderful keepsakes to have and share with family and friends!
Types of Pregnancy Ultrasounds
When most people picture a prenatal ultrasound, they picture a technician holding a handheld device, a woman’s pregnant belly slathered with jelly, and a computer screen with fuzzy images of a baby; in many cases, that is correct. But there are different types of ultrasounds an expecting mother can have, which depend on various factors.
Dating Ultrasound (10 to 13 weeks)
Some women will get an ultrasound at 6-8 weeks if they are considered high risk for miscarriage or are a high-risk pregnancy; however, usually the first ultrasound is scheduled at 10-13 weeks. This first sonogram is known as a dating ultrasound because it will help determine your baby’s gestational age and due date.
For women who went through IVF to conceive, you may have your first ultrasound even earlier than the 6-week mark as you will be monitored by your fertility doctor.
Nuchal Translucency (14 to 20 weeks)
Between weeks 14-20, some parents opt to have what is called a nuchal translucency ultrasound. This type of ultrasound is used to screen for Down syndrome, heart defects, and other possible chromosomal abnormalities. During this scan, the doctor will measure the thickness of the back of the baby’s neck, which could indicate Down syndrome. A nuchal translucency is usually ordered in conjunction with blood tests to measure proteins and hormones, which are analyzed together with the sonography to look for abnormalities.
Your ob-gyn may recommend this test if you are over 35, have a family history of congenital abnormalities, or your initial scans indicate potential issues with the baby’s development.
Basic Anatomy Ultrasound (18 to 20 weeks)
The basic anatomy scan is the one most people are familiar with and is usually when parents find out the baby’s sex. This scan is lengthy and can last anywhere from twenty to forty-five minutes. This ultrasound is performed around week 20 in your second trimester.
This second-trimester scan is used to confirm your baby’s organs are developing correctly. Fingers, toes, and limbs are counted, and it is a general check-up to ensure gestation is proceeding smoothly. The technician will also scan the placenta and measure the amniotic fluid level.
Most parents won’t need a third-trimester ultrasound if previous screening tests have come back normal and you are not considered a high-risk pregnancy. However, your doctor may order this screening if you have high blood pressure, spotting or bleeding, if low amniotic fluid levels have been detected, if you’re experiencing preterm contractions, or if you are over the age of 35.
If your placenta was covering your cervix during your 18-20 week ultrasound, your doctor will follow up with an additional ultrasound exam.
Genetic screening is performed as a combination of an ultrasound and blood tests. A physician will examine the sonogram from the ultrasound to look for neural tube defects as well as defects in the heart, abdomen, and face. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends thoroughly discussing your options and the risk factors with your doctor before deciding whether or not to conduct genetic testing.
Unlike a regular fetal ultrasound that uses sound waves to produce images of your baby, a doppler ultrasound bounces sound waves off of red blood cells. This test ensures that your developing baby is receiving enough blood by measuring blood flow and pressure.
Amniocentesis is performed by removing a small sample of amniotic fluid to test for genetic disorders or neural tube defects. Amniocentesis is not routine prenatal care and is only done if there is reason to believe there may be a genetic disorder or preterm labor concerns. In addition, amniocentesis performed prior to 14 weeks of pregnancy carries an increased risk of miscarriage. This procedure is done in conjunction with an ultrasound.
How Many Ultrasounds During Pregnancy are Safe?
The field of obstetrics states that ultrasounds are safe for both the baby and the mother; however, like any medical test, they should not be performed more than is necessary. Although rare when performed by an obstetrics professional, the greater risk lies in misdiagnosis resulting from ultrasound errors which could cause parents to undergo unnecessary additional testing or even terminate a pregnancy.
It is essential to have ultrasounds performed by trained medical professionals, and stay away from the boutique 3-D and 4-D ultrasound shops that pop up in shopping centers and malls. Instead, technicians that perform ultrasounds should be specifically trained in obstetrical ultrasound procedures at a school accredited by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine.
Most new parents, from the moment they see that positive pregnancy test, begin to wonder, “is my baby ok?” While no test or screening is 100% accurate, ultrasounds have become a standard and reliable test to check for congenital abnormalities, fetal development, and overall pregnancy health.
Most routine ultrasounds are covered by medical insurance, so parents can rest assured they’ll have the opportunity to see and hear their little one, sometimes as early as 8-weeks!
As your baby grows, so will your excitement for their arrival. With Nurture& you can prepare yourself for all the beautiful experiences that await your growing family.
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